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What Are Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS)?

7 Min Read
What Is Schoolwide PBIS?

Problems with behavior can take many forms, and no school is immune to these difficulties. Many children exhibit problematic behaviors from time to time, so schools need to have well-defined strategies for correcting these behaviors. These strategies should include both positive reinforcement and behavioral interventions.

Definition of SWPBIS

Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) is an evidence-based three-tier system of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) focused on preventing antisocial behaviors through positive reinforcement. By implementing this framework at the school level, you ensure that the expectations are applied consistently and equitably.

Tier 1

Tier 1 supports are easily implemented schoolwide. Administrators and teachers will establish expectations that describe positive behaviors, such as sharing, friendliness, inclusivity, and empathy. Promoting these core values helps to encourage a community of learning in which all learners feel supported.

Tier 2

Tier 2 supports are for students who need additional help or guidance to meet schoolwide behavior expectations. In addition, students needing Tier 2 interventions often benefit from small-group activities in which they can practice appropriate behaviors within a small cohort.

Tier 3

Tier 3 supports are intensive and designed to address more serious issues. At this level of intervention, students and support staff often work one-on-one to identify problems and develop a plan for reinforcing positive behaviors. Students receiving Tier 3 supports will be evaluated on an ongoing basis to determine if the student is ready to return to Tier 1 or Tier 2.

Why Is Schoolwide PBIS Important?

School discipline has evolved as we have learned more about how to motivate positive behaviors. In past decades, the practice of discipline has been focused on punishing bad behaviors for motivating positive behaviors. In other words, if a student were to disrupt the class, we might give them a detention. We then assume that the student will never disrupt the class again because they want to avoid having to stay after school.

Another example is the handling of a student not completing homework. Missing an assignment could result in a failing grade, detention, or loss of privileges. We then assume that the student will make sure to complete their homework moving forward to avoid those negative consequences.

The truth is that punishing students for these behaviors does not address the root causes, so it does not lead to positive change. On the contrary, it can often do more harm than good. We have learned over the past several decades that the way we discipline students can have lasting impacts, so it’s highly important to get it right. 

Schoolwide PBIS gives every member of the school community a framework to identify problems and implement strategies that reinforce positive behaviors. It enables behavior change without a focus on punishment.

With SWPBIS, that disruptive student becomes a student who may need to learn positive strategies for dealing with conflict. A school store, for example, can be a significant motivator for students to complete their homework consistently. Methods like this can enable a schoolwide PBIS initiative to promote a culture that rewards schoolwide positive behaviors while providing appropriate interventions for students who need more support.

How Can Schools Implement PBIS?

Implementing a SWBIS program will require much work and collaboration among administrators, teachers, parents, and staff. There are seven steps that you can take to develop a PBIS behavior plan that meets your school’s needs.  

Step 1: Identify key behaviors to focus on

What are the expectations for behavior that your PBIS program will focus on? These behaviors can range from accountability to kindness and respecting others. In addition, you may find that many PBIS goals are represented in state or local social and emotional learning, citizenship, or personal wellness standards. These frameworks can be a good place to start as you seek to define the goals of your schoolwide behavior management systems.

Step 2: Build PBIS into your classroom routines

The goal of PBIS is to support the development of positive behaviors. By including positive behaviors in the rituals of your daily classroom routines, you normalize them. PBIS values can be practiced and demonstrated throughout the school day, from morning check-in to the last bell.

Step 3: Fine-tune your students’ learning environment

Providing PBIS interventions may require you to innovate at a moment’s notice. Does your current classroom environment allow you the flexibility to engage in whole-class, small-group, and large-group interactions? Is there anywhere a student can go in your classroom to be alone if they feel overwhelmed?

Step 4: Consider the incentives

Students can be motivated either intrinsically or extrinsically. As mentioned previously, PBIS with a school store uses external rewards to promote positive behaviors. We can also intrinsically motivate them by rewarding and highlighting students’ achievements and instilling a sense of pride and accomplishment.  

Step 5: Create clear instructions

Define what it means to achieve the goals you have set for students. You can’t assume that students will understand how to meet the expectations. Your schoolwide behavior plan should clearly articulate expectations for conduct and what success looks like.

Step 6: Create a three-tiered system of positive behavior supports

As described above, PBIS relies on a multi-tiered system of interventions and strategies to promote positive behaviors. The three-tier system of support provides a framework for identifying when a student needs support and intervention strategies.

Step 7: Know where your students are 

Nobody knows your students better than you do, so you can’t always rely on pre-made solutions to decide what values and approaches will work for your school district. Even if the broader goals of PBIS are consistent across schools, the process by which your school will get there will depend on where you are today, tomorrow, and next month. PBIS behavioral plans require ongoing evaluation to remain effective and relevant.  

Are Schoolwide Behavior Management Systems Only for Schools with Discipline Issues?

Not at all. Research has shown that schoolwide PBIS contributes to developing a positive and supportive learning environment and is an important tool for preventing discipline issues. It is not a framework of punishments but rather a tool for identifying and promoting prosocial behaviors throughout the learning community.

All schools benefit from the reinforcement of positive behavior. With schoolwide expectations, you establish a foundation for a healthy and respectful learning community by:

  • Helping students set realistic expectations for themselves, each other, and their schools
  • Making students feel safe by reducing bullying and violence in all aspects of school life
  • Assisting students to develop healthy problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills
  • Providing an environment where all students understand what’s expected of them and what success looks like

Schoolwide positive behavior supports can also help schools avoid common problems, such as bullying, before they begin. Students who experience bullying, harassment, or intimidation in school are at greater risk of negative mental health outcomes and lower academic achievement as they grow up. While many factors influence a student’s success in school, a schoolwide approach to prevention can positively affect the overall learning environment.

A PBIS program is ideal for preventing bullying and harassment by identifying, addressing, and preventing the attitudes and behaviors that lead to negative social interactions among students. In the absence of such a program, many educators won’t be equipped to handle these situations or accurately diagnose their cause.

Conclusion

Schoolwide PBIS is a framework for promoting positive behaviors and providing appropriate interventions. Integrated with the academic curriculum, PBIS becomes an essential tool for educating the whole child. With the support of all stakeholders, implementing a PBIS behavior plan reduces barriers to learning readiness and improves outcomes across the entire educational experience.

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This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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